Our bodies go through changes as we age, but one common problem that can be helped in many cases is our changing voice. It’s not unusual in our later years to find a change in the pitch and loudness of our voice making us more difficult to hear or understand. Often described as breathy, or an older person’s voice, this problem can be frustrating for both the person experiencing it as well as those around them.
“We can start to see patients experiencing age-related changes to their voices when they are in their 40s and 50s,” says Joseph P. Bradley, MD, Washington University otolaryngologist (ear, nose and throat specialist) at Barnes-Jewish West County Hospital and the Washington University Voice and Airway Center. “If someone starts noticing a change in their voice, they should talk to their physician. If the change goes on for longer than two weeks, they should be referred to an ENT for further evaluation.”
An ENT, like Dr. Bradley, can examine a patient’s larynx, or voice box, by videostroboscopy, a technique used to evaluate the function of the vocal cords using a strobe light to illuminate the larynx. Through this procedure, he can determine if the change in a person’s voice is due to loss of muscle mass or of the collagen in the vibratory layer. This can mean the vocal folds, also known as vocal cords, are not closing completely, leading to air escaping when a person tries to talk.
Dr. Bradley wants patients to know they do not have to live with age-related changes to their voice and suffer in silence. “This is a quality-of-life issue,” he says. “Humans are meant to be communicative, and we can help.”
There are several things Dr. Bradley encourages people to do to help keep their voice healthy including:
During an office visit, Dr. Bradley and his fellow physicians and therapists can help patients determine the best course of treatment based on the extent of the problem.
Dr. Joseph Bradley is taking new patients and accepts a wide range of health plans. To schedule an appointment with Dr. Bradley or another specialist, call 314.542.WEST (9378) or toll-free 844.542.9378 or request a call for an appointment.